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A lot riding on Hellickson today

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 01:27 AM
ST. PETERSBURG -

For the next installment of the biggest game of the season, the Rays will turn to another rookie pitcher when RHP Jeremy Hellickson makes his American League division series debut this afternoon against the Rangers.

If Hellickson earns the victory in today's Game 4, he will join LHP Matt Moore as the second pair of rookie teammates to win games in the same postseason since Wilcy Moore and George Pipgras did it for the 1927 Yankees against the Pirates.

As it is, Moore and Hellickson are the 10th set of rookie teammates to start postseason games in the same year.

"I have to be reminded that he is a rookie,'' manager Joe Maddon said. "I always fail to put Hellie into that group. I just don't. He's different."

Hellickson (13-10, 2.95) has faced the Rangers only once, a 2-0 defeat on Aug. 30 in which he allowed two earned runs in six innings. Opponents hit just .210 against Hellickson, third-lowest in the major leagues behind Detroit's Justin Verlander (.192) and Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw (.207).

"A tremendous young pitcher … Tampa continues to get 'em,'' Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "It looks like he does his homework because he pitches very well to whatever the hitter's strengths are."

Hellickson might be the calmest person in the building this afternoon, especially those wearing Rays gear.

"It's just the best way I know how to control myself out there," Hellickson said.

He will have to solve a Rangers offense that gave James Shields fits in Game 2 and did just enough against David Price in Monday's Game 3.

"I know they're a very good lineup," Hellickson said. "They have a lot of power, a lot of speed at the top of the lineup, too, and I really can't worry about that. I have to go over there and do what I can do, and that's execute (pitches) and, hopefully, it works out."

Early start

First pitch today is 2:07 p.m., which is the result of the Yankees-Tigers going to a fourth game.

It's not an optimal time for the players, who prefer playing at night.

"It's not optimal from our perspective, but it doesn't surprise me," Maddon said.

The Rays have had early starts in the ALDS since they first reached the postseason in 2008.

"We're been a better day team," Maddon said. "We've kind of turned the corner on that, so I'm not upset with it, I just prefer getting the guys a little more rest."

Evan vs. Bobby

Evan Longoria's 12th-inning, walk-off homer that beat the Yankees last week has drawn comparisons by some Rays fans to the home run by Bobby Thomson that beat the Dodgers in an epic playoff game in 1951.

That might be far-fetched, but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg drew one comparison: Neither home run came in front of a full-house.

The Rays-Yankees game drew 29,518 to the Trop, while the Polo Grounds was 20,000 under capacity.

"(Twenty years from now) how many are going to say they were there that night? 150,000? 250,000? I guess my message is years from now when we create some memories and you say you were there, you can be there. You have the opportunity to be there," Sternberg said. "My dad used to tell me there were half-million people who said they were at the game and they only sold 30,000 tickets.

"That's the beauty of baseball, there's no clock. Playoff game, World Series game, the opportunity is there. 20 years from now, you don't want to look back and say you were there when you really weren't."

NOTEWORTHY

The Rays have hit seven home runs in this series. … LF Desmond Jennings joins C Kelly Shoppach (Game 1), B.J. Upton (2008) and Longoria (2008) as the only Rays to homer twice in the same playoff game. … The Rays are now 11-13 all-time in the postseason, including 6-6 in ALDS play.

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